Writers note: Since this was filed last week (the delay is required) Lisa Murkowski has conceded in Alaska which adds emphasis to the points raised here.
^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@<^
THE MUDDLED ELECTION STORY
By BOB FRANKEN@=
^C.2010 Hearst Newspapers@=
WASHINGTON It's hard to get a handle on this year's political drama. Here's a shocker: There isn't one. Yet.
It's a work in progress and anyone who spouts the conventional wisdom of the moment does it at their own peril. We don't yet know if it will turn out to be anti-incumbent, anti-Obama, anti-Democratic. . . or if the voters are just plain mad in general.
Florida's confused primary is a case in point (I know, I know, who ever heard of a confused election in Florida?)
We can start with Charlie Crist. He didn't have a victory party Tuesday night because, well, he doesn't have a party and didn't have a victory.
Since the Florida governor-turned-U.S.-Senate candidate has turned himself inside-out to avoid having the job done for him, he doesn't get his fight for survival until November.
Crist, who was elected governor four years ago as a Republican, now is seeking the Senate seat as an independent because polls earlier this year showed that he was a likely loser in the Republican primary against way more-conservative Marco Rubio.
The Democrats nominated the son of an iconic congresswoman and four-year House member, Kendrick Meek. Meek beat the really rich guy, Jeff Greene, to win the Democratic nomination which sets up the three-way Senate contest in November: Republican Rubio, Democrat Meek and Independent Crist.
In the Republican gubernatorial contest, another of the super wealthy, former hospital executive Rick Scott, defeated Bill McCollum, the state's attorney general.
We can look at the very opposite corner of the country to Alaska to see that the nationwide narrative is all over the map. There, incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who goes beyond establishment into dynasty, is now in a role reversal. She is struggling to come from behind against upstart challenger Joe Miller in the Republican Senate primary.
The plot thickens because another main character is Sarah Palin and her Tea Partiers.
The former Alaska governor is a long-time Murkowski nemesis—she became governor by defeating the senator's father, incumbent Gov. Frank Murkowski, in the 2006 Republican primary. Palin apparently hasn't lost her touch back in the state she left for unfrozen pastures.
But if the Murkowski dynasty may be fading, the Quayle dynasty may be sprouting. Ben Quayle, the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, won the Republican primary for an Arizona congressional seat. In a campaign ad, he called President Obama "the worst president in history" and vowed to "knock the hell" out of Washington.
And in the Arizona desert, Palin was also a big factor as she had a hand in rescuing her old mentor, incumbent Republican Sen. John McCain. Her natural ally would probably have been the far-right upstart, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who was challenging McCain in the GOP primary.
But the Grizzy Mama stuck by the Grizzled Pappa and that, plus the $20 million he spent, allowed McCain to crush Hayworth. It really gets muddled. The ``maverick'' (McCain) turned insider (McCain), the immigration moderate (McCain), who became a hardliner (McCain) was able to win the faceoff by changing face.
As for Florida, the unsolved riddle is how the Senate votes will split in the Nov. 2 general election. In a pre-primary poll, the respected Mason-Dixon survey did a three-way test. Rubio garnered 38 per cent, Crist 33 and Meek just 18.
That led Mason-Dixon Managing Director Brad Coker to tell me that ``Crist had a lot of Democrats who will drift away, particularly African-Americans, who will go home to Meek,'' who is black.
Susan MacManus, the University of South Florida political scientist, had a different scenario, pointing out to me that Meek is not popular with all Democrats, so she believes Crist can pull an upset.
``His best hope,'' she said, ``is the disenchanted of both parties, and a split of the independents.''
Let's face it, the entire country is a minefield for incumbents this year. Just ask the likes of Sen. Bob Bennett in Utah, or Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter who did his own party-switching before getting tossed out of his new Democratic home. We also have no shortage of victorious insurgents such as Rand Paul in Kentucky and Sharron Angle in Nevada.
But before we conclude that the best experience is inexperience, we need to consider Democratic senators like Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas), Michael Bennet (Colorado) and others of the in-crowd who are still in contention by winning their primaries.
As the remaining candidates decide how to reach into their bag of tricks, they are dealing with a mixed bag. What we have this time around is a work-in-progress.
(E-mail: bob(at)hearstdc.com; on the Web:www.bobfranken.tv0